Anime Review: Attack on Titan Final Season Part 1

Welcome, dear readers! It’s finally time to share my thoughts on Attack on Titan Final Season Part 1 (also known as season 4). The anime aired from December 2020 to March 2021. While all previous seasons were done by Wit Studio, season 4 was produced by MAPPA studio. I’m going to make some notes on how this anime was recieved; afterward, we’ll get into the usual style of Anime Rants reviews.

The reception for this season of Attack on Titan was mixed and rather polarized, but overall still positive. That being said, it didn’t do nearly as well as previous seasons. Presently, Season 3 part 2 has a score of 9.11 on MyAnimeList; the current score for season 4 is 8.99. Among the reviews on MAL, most either rated it very high (9 or 10) or very low (4 or less). Those who gave the anime harsh ratings did so for two main reasons, one of which I view as valid, and the other of which is complete bullshit. The valid criticism is that the visuals are subpar, especially compared to how the series looked before the studio change. As for the bullshit, that’s the claim that the story and plot were subpar. While I do think there are some problems with the narrative, it is still excellent overall. I will elaborate on these points below.

Visuals: 6/10 (Average)

Normally, I am not the type to notice if an anime’s visual presentation is high quality or not. I’m simply not visually oriented. But in the case of AoT Final, it was apparent even to me that the anime didn’t look good. The CG for the Titans looks awful, and the color pallet is washed out and dull compared to past seasons. The often cross-hatched shading lines on faces seem very out of place and poorly incorporated. There isn’t a lot of movement in general. Face expressions, for example, look frozen in place rather than fluid. Shots and camera angles fail to be creative or diverse. After a while, everything seems like the same basic shot of a character’s face from the same angle.

This season’s visuals are plainly horrible When contrasted with the stunning, masterful art and animation of previous AoT anime. However, if looked at by itself, apart from the others in the series, AoT’s latest season is about average quality in the world of anime. Besides the issues I covered and the general reduced quality, the art style is still good, closely following the drawings of Hajime Isayama. And here’s the honest bottom line. Even though I acknowledge the visuals in this anime are lower quality, my overall enjoyment is only very minimally diminished. Visuals simply are not the chief area of interest for me. I care much more about story and characters.

Story and Themes: 9/10 Magnificent

AoT Final Season part 1 was thematically strong, containing several story motifs and ideas that can each spark fascinating discussion. The anime also showed a balance of action, suspense, well-written exposition, and even some occasional comedy. In addition, the atmosphere and narrative did a good job of portraying extremely dark content. The events follow the manga and fit in well with the over-arching story of AoT. Later on, I may talk more about the themes in the show, but for now, let’s look at story weaknesses.

The main issue is the irregular nature of the plot structure and pacing. In some cases, the unusual story presentation is bold and creative, working well for the anime. The choice to start with a few episodes about the kids in Marley, for example, was brilliant. But in other cases, the structure and/or pacing will feel rough and awkward. There is a long period of time where very little action happens (episodes ~9 to ~14) and the slow build-up is, well, a bit too slow. Another issue was that the flashbacks of the last 4 years on the island didn’t always flow together smoothly. They were a bit confusing at first. Additionally, I felt like a gradual series of reveals about Zeke’s history would have worked better than inserting a full episode with his entire life story.

The problems with the narrative really are not too significant. I believe that many of the reviewers on MAL were criticizing AoT over a perceived story weakness. They misunderstand and think that AoT is pointlessly dark. People were (understandably) upset about character death and the changes seen in protagonist Eren. However, anyone who actually pays attention will see that it’s not pointless at all; it all serves the greater themes and deeper meaning that AoT has been trying to convey since the start.

The themes and questions raised by this season are numerous. War, hatred, and the cycle of violence were explored, along with cause and effect or long-term consequences. The need for rationality and and open-minded compassion is also a relevant story theme. Once you comprehend Eren and Zeke’s plan, this question appears: Do the ends justify the means? What do you think of Eren’s view that the greatest grace is to never be born? Other information revealed in the anime makes us wonder, does free will exist for Titan Holders and people of certain bloodlines like Mikasa? Change and the unstable nature of the world is yet another motif. Finally, we clearly see in this narrative that everyone has their own side to the story.

Audio: 9/10 Magnificent

I don’t have as much to say about the audio compared to story and characters, but it is what it is. I think AoT final season did great on the audio side. The opening song, “My War” by Shinsei Kamattechan, is my second favorite anime song of 2020 and so far my favorite of 2021. For me, it sounds unsettling and mildly disturbing in a good way; that is, it fits the themes of war, prejudice, and hatred. The ending song, “Shoukugeki” by Yuuko Andou, was also eerie and fitting, but a bit more melancholy. I liked it, and I think it’s a great character song for the Marleyan kids– especially Falco. As for instrumentals music, it was beautiful and exciting, but not quite as epic or varied as in past seasons. That’s because Hiroyuki Sawano did not do the music this time.

There were no cast changes despite the studio switch, and the Japanese voice-acting is top notch as usual. All the veterans from past seasons are back. The seiyuus for Hange (Romi Park), Levi (Hiroshi Kamiya), Mikasa (Yui Ishikawa), Eren (Yuki Kaji), and Zeke (Takehito Koyasu) all performed excellently. New additions like Yelena (Mitsuki Saiga) and returning supporting characters like Pixis (Masahito Tanaka) also played their roles with proficiency. I was slightly disappointed at first that Armin was not recast with a more mature voice, since his voice must have changed by now. However, I am a fan of his seiyuu, Marina Inoue, so I quickly accepted her continued role. Regardless of voice pitch, she still protrays the character of Armin near perfectly.

Characters: 9/10 Magnificent

Character development was terrific all around. I’ll put my general notes here, starting with a bit about Eren. We saw that he went through a dramatic change. For most of the episodes, viewers have no idea what is going on in Eren’s head. Only in the last few episodes do we start to understand some reasons for the drastic differences in his behavior. But though it’s subtle, character development is still happening; we are constantly getting hints and bits of insight into Eren throughout the series. For example, there were some interesting lines in the scene where he, Armin, and Mikasa were practicing shooting. Once you find out Eren’s main motivation, some of the pieces begin to make sense.

The other thing I want to say about “the new Eren” is that he’s not simple. Even after you find out what his greater plan is late in the season, there are things that still don’t “add up.” His new personality and behaviors are not all explained by his secret plan. I have my own thoughts about this subject but I don’t want to write an essay here when there are other characters to mention.

The characters fans are used to (Mikasa, Armin, Jean, etc.) seem to grow and change only slightly. Character development is instead largely focused on the new characters. Willy Tybur was a thoroughly interesting character despite the brevity of his importance in the story. Niccolo isn’t exactly likeable if you ask me, and his hyper-emotional nature can be difficult to wrap your head around. Still, I liked the inclusion his character arc. Yelena is another new face, and I find myself fascinated by her original personality, her character history, and her apparent sociopathy.

And of course, you can’t talk about new characters without discussing Gabi and Falco. Both are well-written characters who are developed commendably over these episodes. Naturally, Gabi gets a lot of hate, and it’s true that she’s mentally unhinged. But I am interested in her, and can empathize to a degree since I also grew up indoctrinated and prejudiced. As for Falco, he is hard not to love, and I suspect he’ll play an important role in part 2.

Older characters get some share of exploration as well. Reiner, for instance, is shown struggling with mental illness and cognitive dissonance in the early episodes. He even becomes suicidal at one point. Meanwhile, Hange and Levi have their respective troubles with leadership and difficult choices. We also learned a lot about Zeke and his past. As you can see, AoT’s final season (part 1) is brimming with fascinating characters and their psychological journeys.

Personal Enjoyment: 10/10 Masterpiece

Most of my enjoyment of this series stemmed from interesting character development and the presentation of thought-provoking themes. The level of insight that went into this story is simply stunning. There were smaller things I enjoyed as well, such as seeing the adult versions of all the characters. As bi/pan anime fan, I found Mikasa and Eren both frighteningly attractive. I can’t decide whose design I like better. As mentioned previously, I love the song “My War” and I listen to it frequently.

Something else great about this season was AoT’s continued trend of good representation. This series has always portrayed its female characters very well. It also has positive depictions of non-binary people like Hange, and lesbian relationships like that of Ymir and Historia. In this season, we were introduced to Onyankopo, the only black character in AoT. We also met Yelena, who seems to be gender-nonconforming and possibly gender-queer. Of course, Yelena isn’t exactly seen as the most likeable character, but I still liked the inclusion.

Let me also remark on an aspect that gave me mixed feelings throughout this season. It’s something you see now and then in anime, but it’s just uncommon enough for me to not be sick of it. I call it, “Light Trope” as a reference to Death Note, or “Going Lelouch” as a reference to Code Geass. An anime’s central character “goes Lelouch” or falls into the Light Trope when he becomes an antihero working for the percieved “greater good” at the cost of numerous lives. I predicted this would happen in AoT before I watched this season, and it seems I was correct. At first, I felt neutral, because the Light Trope can easily go very wrong. But by the season finale, I was enjoying the use of the Light Trope for Eren immensely. It’s done quite well.

Overall Score: 8.6/10.0 Excellent

Just as with the MAL ratings, my score for this season of AoT is significantly lower than that of previous seasons. However, a solid 8/10 is still a great score. The visuals were the main areas that took away from the quality. The story and characters, as well as music and songs, remain top-notch. I’m excited for part two.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my review. I wish you all well and hope that you stay safe and hydrated as summer begins.


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